The Master Plan: Himmler's Scholars and the Holocaust by Heather Pringle (Viking), 458 pages, $35 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
"Nazi Science": the phrase sounds absurd.
But for Heinrich Himmler, the stargazing Reichsfuhrer who ran the SS, Hitler's elite praetorian guard, Nazi science - once purged of the Jewish menace - was going to build a future world full of genetically pure Aryans.
Himmler insisted that science, like everything else, had to serve the Nazi party. As part of this mandate, he set up the SS Ahnenerbe institute to scientifically prove Nordic racial superiority and justify the crimes of the future.
Heather Pringle, a Vancouver journalist, tells how Himmler brought together a motley collection of fanatics, madmen and opportunists under the auspices of the Ahnenerbe to prove his fantasies.
In its early stages, the institute sent archaeologists and anthropologists to search the globe for documentation of the origins of Nazism in a mythical ancient Aryan civilization.
At first the Ahnenerbe's activities were more silly than sinister. Nazi eccentrics went here and there, twisting and trumpeting every archaeological find as proof of a brilliant Aryan past.
Teams of SS adventurers travelled from Tibet to Iraq recording racial data and sometimes doing a little spying for German intelligence.
But after the invasion of Poland and the igniting of global war, the Ahnenerbe's actions turned more criminal and grisly.
Nazi science moved on to proving the inferiority of Jews, a task for which the death and concentration camps run by Himmler's SS provided unlimited guinea pigs. Pringle describes one particularly brutish attempt to set up a bone museum designed to compare skeletons of murdered Jews with non-Jews to demonstrate Jewish sub-humanness.
The Master Plan is an engrossing study of the perversion of science by politics, and the extreme consequences of that process excellent reading as Holocaust Remembrance Day (April 25) approaches.
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